In 1903, there was no insulin for diabetes or cure for polio. Penicillin had not yet been developed and open-heart surgery was only a dream.
Since that time, there have been many medical breakthroughs -- yet one constant has remained -- Christian Hospital’s commitment to continue providing needed medical services to the community.
Today, Christian Hospital is noted as a leader among hospitals in the St. Louis region. In particular, for its excellence in heart services and lifesaving cardiothoracic surgery, emergency medicine, neurosurgery, cancer treatment, radiology, urology, pulmonology and radiation oncology. Christian Hospital has more than 600 physicians on staff and a diverse workforce of more than 2,500 health care professionals dedicated to providing the absolute best care with the latest technology and medical advances.
St. Louis in 1903 was the fourth-largest city in the nation and its citizens were busily preparing to host the World’s Fair the following year in celebration the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase. All the while, a small group of women in north St. Louis was focused on a different purpose.
Fannie Hamilton Ayers had long devoted her time and efforts to help the poor and indigent women and children of St. Louis, as well as the sick and the elderly. In the late 1800s, Ayers and a group of churchwomen formed the Christian Woman’s Benevolent Association. They ran shelters and gave speeches to religious and civic organizations in an effort to raise funds and increase awareness of their work serving the less fortunate in St. Louis.
At the same time, their activity and social consciousness called for stricter health care standards. While an important part of their mission included providing personal medical care to the north St. Louis community, they had long dreamed of one day opening a hospital.
That dream was realized in 1903 when the Christian Woman’s Benevolent Association secured the purchase of a modest home at 2835 Lawton Avenue for use as a hospital. Board members from the association and a few local doctors were appointed to a joint committee, which developed standards of care, as well as rules and regulations by which the hospital would provide services.
In August 1903 the doors were opened to patients, and Christian Hospital took its first step toward a remarkable history.
Within a short time, Christian Hospital expanded its reach within the community. First in 1911 when hospital leadership procured control of the Centenary Hospital at Garrison and Lawton, named it Christian Hospital and reorganized the staff to the new location. In September 1914, the O’Bar Sanitarium, a 35-bed hospital at Grand and Palm, was purchased and Christian Hospital again relocated services to the north, reorganized the staff and set its sights on the future.
As the Roaring ‘20s got into full swing, Christian Hospital was in need of a permanent, larger site. In 1923, a building fund to erect a larger, modern Christian Hospital was initiated. The community expressed overwhelming support for a larger, more up-to-date facility in north St. Louis. The medical staff worked with the women’s Christian group to acquire a triangular block of land bordered by Carter, Taylor and Newstead avenues.
The result of this joint collaboration between the community, hospital physicians and leadership, and the Christian Woman’s Benevolent Association was a four-story,100-bed facility designed to be “modern and fire-proof.” The new Christian Hospital at 4411 Newstead Avenue was officially opened with a dedication ceremony on October 29, 1925.
Christian Hospital was then one of three hospitals in the country operated by the Christian Woman’s Benevolent Association, which also provided much-needed care for the less fortunate of St. Louis through its Children’s Home, the Mothers and Babies Home, and the Christian Old People’s Home.
Members of the Christian Woman’s Benevolent Association comprised the entire Christian Hospital board of trustees, which was organized back in 1903 to coincide with the opening of the hospital. In addition to hiring an administrator, the board’s responsibilities included selecting the medical staff, hiring nurses, purchasing equipment and supervising the operation of the physical plant.
The new Christian Hospital was soon approved as a “Class A” hospital by the American Medical Association and the American College of Surgeons. Christian Hospital continued to prove its worth in north St. Louis, where it filled a great need. Its location was most important, serving a large area in close proximity to an industrial section of St. Louis not far from the Mississippi River. It is believed many lives were saved at Christian Hospital because of its location. In 1932, for example, the hospital had 737 emergency cases.
Early records state many of the hospital’s emergency patients were cared for free of charge, as health insurance was almost non-existent. In 1933 -- at the height of the Great Depression -- documents report “in the entire history its existence, no emergency case was ever turned away from the doors of the Christian Hospital because of inability to pay for treatment.”
While most other hospitals of the day had other means of income, such as endowments, bequests and the like, this was not true of Christian Hospital. It had no other means of revenue aside from its earnings, except for small contributions from various Christian churches throughout the United States.
The Great Depression of the 1930s brought with it an increase in the need to provide charity care to an increasing number of people who had never needed it before. As a result, in order for the hospital to continue in the future, it became necessary to appeal to the public-spirited citizens of the day with an interest in civic affairs and who felt responsible for the sick to share the hospital’s responsibility.
A 1933 appeal from Christian Hospital for support noted that gifts were received from every point of the compass and varied from postage stamps to an individual donation of $2,000, with the following recollection:
“One of the most pitiful donations was a 25-cent piece handed us by an old lady in our Christian Old People’s Home; some passing friend had handed her this as pin money and she immediately turned it over to the Christian Hospital Fund with the comment of how glad she was that she could have a part in the saving of the Christian Hospital. It was the ‘Widow’s Mite’ -- she had given all she had.”
From the 1930s to the early 1950s, the hospital on Newstead Avenue gradually increased in size to 135 beds. During this time the world of medicine underwent profound changes in the way diseases were treated. World War II brought with it changes in the way hospitals were run. Doctors and nurses were becoming less involved running medical facilities and ordering supplies, thus enabling them to attend more fully to patient care, as young men and women who served in the medical corps during WWII were bringing medical administration to the table.
As administrative responsibilities at Christian Hospital grew larger and more complex, the board added several outstanding business leaders from the community to its membership in 1957, in a first step toward transitioning leadership and positioning the organization to meet future challenges.
At this time it was very clear that Christian Hospital needed to expand to keep pace with the growing community. The hospital needed more beds, and new services were required to keep pace with advancing technology and medical breakthroughs. Facilities also needed to be renovated and modernized. Plans were set in motion to add a new wing.
A grant from the Ford Foundation and a federal grant approved under the Hill-Burton Act gave the expansion project and fund-raising campaign the needed spark. Contributions from business leaders, employees, physicians, members of the community and more than 200 Christian churches throughout the country greatly enhanced money-raising efforts.
A Vision for the Future
On April 18, 1960, Paul F. Detrick was named administrator of Christian Hospital. Detrick came to Christian Hospital with nearly 10 years of experience of hospital administration experience, first at a 100-bed hospital in Arkansas City, Kansas, and then at Freeman Hospital in Joplin, Missouri. Just before coming to Christian Hospital, Detrick was a hospital consultant with an architectural firm in Kansas City.
Detrick, who passed away in 1999, is remembered as a visionary, a great leader, a shrewd businessman and a truly warm and compassionate human being by those who knew and worked with him. Under his leadership, the building program to expand the Newstead facility was streamlined and the fund-raising efforts reorganized.
Construction of the new wing was completed in 1961. A year later it was quickly determined that the expansion was a temporary fix and would not meet all the needs of the Christian Hospital community. The city’s population was shifting as patients moved farther north and west into the suburbs, along with physicians and their practices.
Even though it was developing into one of the largest residential and business communities in the state, north St. Louis County was without a hospital. Suburban residents had to drive up to 45 minutes to get to Christian Hospital or other hospitals in the city, St. Charles or other parts of St. Louis County.
It was clear that the need for a hospital in north St. Louis County was acute. Residents, the business community, clergy and politicians all agreed, yet leadership and money were lacking. Various civic and religious groups wanted to build their own hospital, but no one had the know-how to get the project under way.
Christian Hospital, on the other hand, had just completed a successful expansion project and already had an experienced administrative team. The hospital was financially sound and had demonstrated its ability to raise funds. And it had gained a reputation for being a community hospital that promoted personalized health care.
Christian Hospital Northwest
On Nov. 15, 1962, Christian Hospital announced plans to build Christian Hospital Northwest. After extensive research and careful consideration, the hospital purchased a 17-acre tract of land just north of Interstate 270 on the west side of Graham Road in Florissant. This site was in the heart of North County and easily accessible to the entire area by major roadways.
Christian Hospital Northwest would consist of a 156-bed acute-care general hospital, a 98-bed extended care unit and a five-story medical office building, all connected by enclosed corridors.
Financing the building of Christian Hospital Northwest became an immediate priority. While half of the funding was obtained through long-term insurance company financing, the other half was raised through individual, business and organization contributions. The community again came forward in support Christian Hospital and its plans to build in North County.
Christian Hospital’s present Auxiliary can trace its roots to this effort. In 1964, a group of 25 women, representing various church, civic and service organizations in the area, met for coffee at the home of Mrs. Bobby McGibbon. They were north St. Louis County residents, many of them mothers of accident-prone youngsters. All were concerned about the lack of a hospital in the area.
Working solely on the basis of their desire for a hospital, this group of women formed the Christian Hospital Northwest Auxiliary. These charter members ran a notice in the newspaper and held their first meeting about a month later in the fund-raising office at Airport and Chambers roads.
Under the direction of Mrs. Mary Marks, the group’s first president, they spoke at numerous public events to generate interest in their cause. If a group needed hostesses, they volunteered their services. They wrote a skit and sang a song and danced their way across the state to raise money. The Auxiliary opened the Pink Elephant resale shop in Berkeley that continues today at Parker and New Halls Ferry in Florissant as the Resale and Consignment Shop, which sells furniture, clothing, jewelry, housewares and collectibles. The Auxiliary also initiated the annual Charity Ball, an annual fund-raiser that continues to make a significant financial contribution to the hospital each year.
On Sunday, July 10, 1966, a crowd of about 2,000 people gathered on the hottest day of the year to witness the groundbreaking ceremony for the long-awaited hospital. Undaunted by the blazing temperatures, the crowd cheered loudly when the first mound of dirt was removed. Selina Hulan, president of the Christian Women’s Benevolent Association and a member of the board of directors, was at the controls of the bulldozer.
Less than two years later, Christian Hospital Northwest was ready to open. Dedication ceremonies were held on April 21, 1968. Everyone in North County was invited to the opening and to tour the 254-bed facility.
When Christian Hospital Northwest opened, new medical standards were established and this became an important milestone in improving the quality of medical care. Even though a majority of the physicians from the original Christian Hospital joined the new medical staff at Northwest, each had to apply for membership at the new hospital. Not all were granted the same privileges.
Renowned surgeon Joshua Jensen Sr., MD, is credited with smoothing the transition between the medical staffs of the old and new hospitals. As the first chief of staff, Dr. Jensen endured many lengthy meetings to write the new bylaws that would establish separate and improved medical practices at Christian Hospital Northwest and later at Christian Hospital Northeast.
Within a short period of time, Christian Hospital Northwest became financially independent and garnered the respect and support of the community for its excellent health care.
Christian Hospital Northeast
As with Christian Hospital’s previous building projects, it was immediately apparent that the 254-bed Christian Hospital Northwest was sufficiently meeting patient demand. The hospital experienced overcrowding almost from the day it opened. The Emergency Department quickly built a reputation as one of the best and busiest in the state. Services continued to grow as new ones were introduced. Before long, expansion was once again necessary.
To ensure adequate and accessible heath care for the growing population, Christian Hospital announced plans in 1972 to expand again. As before, the hospital needed to look at a new location to realize this needed growth.
Building regulations prohibited adding additional stories to the existing Northwest facility, and the 17-acre campus was too small to accommodate construction of a larger building project. It was decided a building site close to Northwest that would complement and supplement its services. Christian Hospital would become a two-division hospital.
North St. Louis County resident Clarence H. Kaimann offered his 27-acre estate for a fraction of its market value to fulfill his desire that the community benefit from his land. Situated at the interchange of Interstate 270 and Highway 367, the location was ideal. The site was seven miles from the Northwest division and would significantly broaden the hospital’s service area. To make the deal even more meaningful, Kaimann’s sister-in-law, Mrs. Florence Dreher, made a substantial contribution to the hospital. She donated $100,000, an amount equal to the purchase price of the Northeast site.
While the groundbreaking ceremony for the Northeast division had been set for December 26, 1972, the hospital directed its attention to fund raising. Instead of initiating another community-wide campaign to raise money, hospital administrators developed a plan unique at the time and, with the authorization of St. Louis County and permission from the IRS, issued tax-exempt bonds totaling $27 million. Revenue from the bonds was used to build the Northeast division.
The shell of the hospital was completed officially on April 5, 1974, when the last bucket of cement was ceremoniously poured. The final touches were completed 17 months later and more than 7,000 guests attended the two-day opening ceremonies at Northeast. Enthusiastic employees and volunteers led tours and conducted demonstrations in one of the most modern and well-equipped medical centers in the state.
Christian Hospital Northeast admitted its first patients on September 28, 1975, as the medical/surgical unit of the two-division hospital.
One System Leads to Another
By the early 1980s, Christian Hospital was managing Northeast-Northwest, a nursing home and retirement center, consulting initiatives as well as hospital administration management services under the name of Christian Health Services.
A network of smaller, outstate hospitals began to build under the Christian Health Services umbrella to benefit from increased purchasing power and the utilization of skilled personnel. Christian managed the hospitals, provided the know-how for daily operations, and the resources of its various services to enhance health care in the rural areas.
Fred L. Brown became president of Christian Hospital in 1982. He replaced Detrick, who became president of and CEO of Christian Health Services until his retirement in 1985.
Under Brown’s leadership, Christian went from being a little community hospital to a leader in the development of what evolved into Christian Health System. In 1988, Brown negotiated a unique lease agreement with Boone Hospital Center in Columbia, Missouri. This created a mid-Missouri hub that greatly enhanced the growing Christian network.
Within a short time, Christian Health System grew to include Christian Hospital Northeast-Northwest, Alton Memorial Hospital, Boone Hospital Center, Clay County Hospital, Fayette County Hospital, Hedrick Medical Center, Parkland Health Center, the Village North Nursing Homes, CH Health Technologies and CH Allied Services.
In 1990, Rick Van Bokkelen was named president of Christian Hospital, after having served as executive vice president and chief operating officer since 1986 and administrator since 1983. Under his leadership the hospital continued to grow and meet the needs of the community.
In June 1993, Christian Health System -- with Fred Brown at the helm -- initiated a merger with Barnes-Jewish Inc. to form what is now BJC HealthCare. Additional mergers in 1994 with Missouri Baptist Health System and the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Network garnered national attention for BJC and its unique mix of community, rural and research-based services. Through the mergers, Christian Hospital and BJC became closely affiliated with the prestigious Washington University School of Medicine, ranked among the top five medical schools in the nation.
During the years that followed, hospital revenues began on a downward trend as the government and the insurance industry took measures to contain health care costs. Hospitals found it continually difficult to maintain their facilities and manage their costs, and Christian Hospital was particularly hard hit.
On the Horizon
Thanks to great leadership from experienced hospital management, an insightful board of directors, an accomplished medical staff, dedicated employees and great support from community leaders, Christian Hospital has experienced a dramatic turnaround and looks forward to a bright future.
Christian Hospital continues to be on the forefront of medical advances and is proud of its many accomplishments and contributions over the past 100 years. Join us as we continue another 100 years of helping people enjoy life by improving their health.